Day Warri Stood Still For New Olu

Traditional items on display

Traditional items on display

Well Wishers Optimistic Of Peaceful Times

THE coronation of the new Olu of Warri, His Royal Majesty Ikenwoli Gbesimi Emiko, may have come and gone. Echoes of the celebration, however, will continue to reverberate for a long time.

For Warri and the Itsekiri people, it was a new dawn as Ogiame Ikenwoli formally ascended the throne of his ancestors, stepping into the shoes of Ogiame Atunwase who passed on recently.

Saturday, December 13, 2015 was a red-letter day for the Itsekiri and friends of the kingdom. They trooped into Ode-Itsekiri to witness the highlights of the ceremony. Such events may happen once in a lifetime for some people and that might be the reason they chose to make the best of it. They craned their necks to watch every detail of the coronation rites. Every moment was savoured, as the crown, which dated well over 500 years, rested gently on the revered monarch’s head.

Itsekiri people, no doubt, are very passionate about their Olu and would stop at nothing to uphold his power and glory. Nothing held back their outpouring of love for the ruler. It is no understatement that the age-long bond between the king and the people remains unbreakable.

The famed rich cultural heritage of the Itsekiri was at its best on the day in the oil town of Warri and the cradle of the Itsekiri people – Ode-Itsekiri during the coronation. They readily answered the call to grace the occasion and the excitement on their faces said it all.

Time stood still at rustic Ode-Itsekiri as a crowd of well over 50,000 people trooped into the town to witness the historic milestone. It was a crowd of the young, old, men, women, Nigerians from other parts of the country, and foreigners. Gaily dressed Itsekiri men and women in colourful traditional attires came from far and near.

Located deep in the creeks and mangrove swamps of the resource rich but impoverished Niger Delta region of the country, access to Ode-Itsekiri is only by canoe, boat, ferry and barge. Warri River, which led to the venue of the ceremony, was jam-packed with many such vessels carrying guests to and from the place. With numerous boats plying the river from Naval Yard, Warri Club, the jetty at Ugbuwangue and other parts of Warri, it took a lot of skills for the drivers to avoid collision and wade through waves formed by the movement of the boats.

Some major roads in Ode-Itsekiri wore fresh asphalt coating in preparation for the ceremony. Residents made brisk business, selling different items amid echoes of loud music. The town was certainly in a party mood. While some of the guests stood under tents, others were in the sun, which was tempered by the harmattan breeze. Others yet lazed away at the waterfront, listening to proceedings from loudspeakers that could be heard from every corner of the town.

The new monarch was crowned at exactly 2.10pm by the Olaraja of Jakpa amid the booms of cannons, loud shouts of acclaim by the crowd and ululation by women.

The supreme traditional ruler of all Itsekiri had arrived the Naval Base, Warri, at about 10.18am to witness a boat regatta, which was part of the numerous activities lined up for the coronation. He departed with his entourage of high chiefs in a special boat shortly after the boat races. For well over two hours after the monarch left, all traffic still led to Ode-Itsekiri as people remained anxious to witness the scene of the memorable ceremony. Thousands of people trekked, as vehicular movement was restricted to the sailing points. The Warri-Sapele Road was closed, from the Nigeria Port Authority office area up to Esisi junction, and was devoid of its usual hustle and bustle.

A combined team of Navy, Army, Police and Civil Defence personnel were on hand to provide watertight security. Some of the military men were on land; others with gunboats patrolled the creeks during the duration of the ceremony and long after it ended.
GINUWA, a prince of the famous Benin Empire, founded Iwerre (Warri) Kingdom around 1480. In the 15th century, Portuguese missionaries visited Warri Kingdom in order to cement the long relationship Europe had with Africa.

At the beginning of the 17th century, a son of the reigning Olu was sent to Portugal. He returned with a Portuguese wife. Their son, Antonio Domingo, was Olu of Warri in the 1640s. Olu Erejuwa, who reigned from about 1720 to 1800, expanded Warri politically and commercially, using the Portuguese to further Warri’s independence and establish control over a wider area.

Later, Warri served as base for Portuguese and Dutch slave traders. It grew into a more important port city during the late 19th century, when it became a centre for flourishing palm oil trade and other major items such as rubber, palm products, cocoa, groundnuts, hides, and skins. The British established it as a provincial headquarters in the early 20th century. The discovery of crude oil and the establishment of a port by the Federal Government consolidated its status as one of the major commercial towns in Nigeria.

Prince Ikenwoli’s journey to the exalted traditional stool began on September 19, when he was unveiled to the people at Ode-Itsekiri, but had to wait three months, according to the tradition of his people before the coronation. In line with Section 8 of the Traditional Rulers and Chiefs Edict, 1979 of the defunct Bendel State (now Edo/Delta States), a regent was chosen to oversee the affairs of the king, pending the coronation.

The responsibility of announcing the passage of Olu Atunwase II and the choice of Prince Ikenwoli to the Itsekiri National Congress was bestowed on the eldest member of the Olu Advisory Council, Chief Tesigiweno Yahya Pessu, who is the Ojomo of Warri Kingdom.

It was with a heavy heart that he disclosed the sad news after performing the traditional ‘breaking of the calabash’, which signified the death of the monarch. Echoes of ‘alejefun’ and ‘otatse’ meaning, “the white chalk has been eaten by the earth” and “the anchor is broken” reverberated as the rituals were being performed.

After breaking the calabash, Chief Pessu, who is also the Chief Priest of the kingdom, reeled out the code of conduct for the entire Itsekiri nation, home and in the Diaspora, for the three months that the departed Olu would be mourned.

In a stern and authoritarian voice, he declared: “Itsekiri all over the world should be mourning until the burial ceremony is performed and done with. This may take three lunar months. All Itsekiri men and women should wear their (expensive) clothes upside down. There shall be no party, no drumming and no form of merriment for the Itsekiri anywhere, until this process is over. We are in a mourning position now. This shall be in all Itsekiri domains.”

At the coronation, President Muhammadu Buhari commended the Itsekiri nation for not having any of its sons and daughters in alleged financial impropriety. Represented by the Secretary to the Federal Government, Mr. David Babachir Lawal, Buhari remarked that the testimony was a true reflection of the character and integrity of the Itsekiri nation and people.

He advised the new monarch to build on his predecessor’s shining example at entrenching peace and harmony among Itsekiri people and their neighbours. He also urged him not to abdicate the responsibility of promoting law, order and peace among Itsekiri youths. Buhari showered encomium on the Itsekiri for the peaceful manner they chose a successor to the former traditional ruler.

Delta State Governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa (middle); his Edo State counterpart, Adams Oshiomole (right); and immediate past Delta State Governor, Dr, Emmanuel Uduaghan (left) at the event

Delta State Governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa (middle); his Edo State counterpart, Adams Oshiomole (right); and immediate past Delta State Governor, Dr, Emmanuel Uduaghan (left) at the event

On his part, Delta State governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, described the new monarch as the right choice, urging him to pursue peace and harmony with his neighbours.

Okowa promised to woo Anglo-Dutch oil giant, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), to return to Warri to boost investment in the state.

He said: “Peace and security is a critical factor for economic growth and sustainable development. We hold the traditional institutions in the state in high esteem, as custodians of our culture and those closest to the grassroots. We count on their counsel and guidance for policy formulation and execution for overall effectiveness…the synergy between the traditional institutions and government is a sine qua non for good governance and sustainable development.”

The newly crowned monarch, on his part, vowed he would make himself available to the people, pledging: “I am for you and you are for me.” He thanked his people for the confidence reposed in him, promising to surpass the achievement of his predecessor.

The Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, congratulated the monarch and promised to sustain the cordial relationship between both kingdoms.

Other dignitaries at the event included former Vice President Alex Ekwueme; Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives, Yusuf Lafun; former Lagos State governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu; Edo State governor, Adams Oshiomhole; former Delta State governor, Emmanuel Uduaghan; and Delta State deputy governor, Kingsley Utuama.

The need for enduring peace among the warring tribes in Warri was a theme touched by all the speakers. The prayer by all was that the new Olu would consolidate on the peace, as the bad old days of internecine conflict were indeed a nightmare.

All hail the Olu!

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